TE24 Sports Desk:
There were two continental club finals in the space of 48 hours over the end of the last week and the start of this. Real Madrid won the first one, defeating Liverpool 1-0 in Paris on Saturday. Then on Monday, it was time for the African version.
It wasn’t that dissimilar.
Instead of Al-Ahly winning a third CAF African Champions League in a row to make history, Wydad AC won Monday’s final 2-0 to capture their third continental title. Zouhair El-Moutaraji scored a goal in each half to send around 50,000 fans in the Stade Mohammed V in Casablanca into raptures.
If Al-Ahly, who have already won the competition 10 times, have been called “Africa’s Real Madrid” — a team that has a special pedigree in the competition — it was the Moroccans who channeled the aura of the Spanish giants.
“Today, we were Real Madrid, not Liverpool. We learned the lesson from Real Madrid’s win,” said Wydad coach Walid Regragui after the game. The club now equal Raja Casablanca as the most successful Moroccan team in the competition’s history.
In Paris, Liverpool may have had more of the ball but couldn’t make it count. In Casablanca, the Egyptians had plenty of possession but struggled to create clear chances in the face of a disciplined and effective defensive performance from Wydad.
“We let them have the ball, and we knew that they would send balls upfield to Percy Tau, so we focused on controlling him,” Regragui added. “The game was very tough, but we produced a strong performance and deserved to win.”
Many would agree, but Al-Ahly were unhappy about the choice of Wydad’s home stadium as the venue for the final, with CAF making the decision between the first and second legs of the semifinals. Mahmoud Al-Khatib, the president of Al-Ahly, looked to be complaining to FIFA boss Gianni Infantino ahead of the trophy presentation about the unfair timing of the decision, which was made when it looked almost certain that Wydad would be in the final.
He has a point. While, in theory, 10,000 tickets were allocated to each set of fans and the rest put on general sale, in practice, only a couple of thousand made the trip from Cairo with the rest snapped up by Wydad fans. In effect, this was a home game, and the Moroccan supporters created an unforgettable atmosphere — inspiring for their team and intimidating and hostile for Al-Ahly, who must have wished that there was a second leg back in Egypt. It was not a surprise that they looked a little shaken in the early stages and soon found themselves behind.
Al-Ahly boss Pitso Mosimane complained about the whole arrangement.
“I think that everyone behind this decision feels happy,” he said. “The best team lost today. When you play at a neutral ground and there is an equal number of fans between the two teams, then you can talk about winning and losing.”
The Cairo club had taken the issue to the Court of Arbitration for Sport but had lost, predictably. There was genuine anger at the decision, but perhaps the whole situation became too big in their minds. It could be that, when the dust settles, the focus on complaining about the venue will be seen as counterproductive.
Going with the example of Liverpool once again, the Reds beat AS Roma in Rome in the 1984 final, and Chelsea triumphed against Bayern Munich in Munich a decade ago. These venues may have been known long in advance, and there may have been more English fans present, but playing a one-off game at the home of the final opponent was not seen as that big of a deal. Al-Ahly made sure that it was a major talking point before it all started.
It is not yet clear what befalls the washouts now. They are familiar with winning in Africa yet in addition know what it is prefer to get to the last and miss the mark as this is a third other participants place over the course of about six years. There is, at any rate, a lot to possess the group at home as they have slipped into third in the association however have four games close by on the pioneers Zamalek because of mainland responsibilities.
The Red Giants have the stuff to close the hole, however at that point there is the subject of mentor Mosimane. The South African was on course to leave a mark on the world by turning into the first to come out on top for the championship multiple times in succession and simply the second to win four altogether. To win in such an unfriendly climate would have been his greatest achievement at this point.
As indicated by reports, Al-Ahly’s board will meet to decide his future, however this has been denied by the club. Previous players and Egypt director Taha Ismail talking on TV required Mosimane’s initial flight, faulting the strategist for the misfortune and a run that has seen the club dominate only one association match in the last five. Anything that Mosimane’s future before very long, long haul, it ought to be a brilliant one.
Whatever occurs, Al-Ahly will be back however for the present, it is Casablanca, not Cairo, celebrating.